What fire uncovers. Within Big Basin Redwoods State Park – post-CZU – an old bunker is revealed. Locals have long speculated what might have been stored within.
SLV Museum’s Lisa Robinson provided this comment: “I would have thought it was for road building and/or removing stumps – there are many many reports of removing stumps with dynamite – I’ve written a couple of articles about it – one where the person accidentally blew up their own bridge across the San Lorenzo River. Also, the flume was put out of action by a dynamite blast when the Dougherty railroad north of town was being put in. We may never know the specifics of this magazine.”‘
Barry Brown, California Powder Works Historian, provided this statement: “Yes, I recognize the kind of explosives storage facility in the photograph. In our area, in the 19th century, it was common for certain industries and municipalities to keep explosives on their property for regular use. The County used black powder and dynamite to cut and repair roads. Industries such as the Cowell Lime Works used explosives to extract lime rock for processing. And finally, the timber industry used explosives to remove large stumps and rocks rather than trying to dislodge them with horse teams.
Because these groups needed explosives on a regular basis, they bought black powder and dynamite in relatively large quantities and thus needed a safe place to store them. Typically, caves were used which needed to be locked up for safety. Your photograph looks just like one of those caves. There was a similar one located on High Street in Santa Cruz on the edge of the UC Santa Cruz campus (the old Lime Works property).
There is a newspaper report, April 5, 1876, from Salt Lake City where two young boys fired a rifle through the doors of an explosives storage cave, just above the town, which caused an explosion that killed them and rained rock and debris down on the city below causing several deaths and the population to think it was the end of the world.
Storage of explosives was very common in the 19th and early 20th centuries in semi-rural areas. You could walk into a hardware store on Pacific Avenue as late as 1950 and by a 25lb keg of blasting powder, no questions asked.”
Photos by Julie Horner